The late, great Bernard Malamud (1914–1986), the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and author of The Natural, was clear about one thing: his writing was not finished until it had been edited—at least twice.
At a commencement address at Bennington College in 1984, he said,
I have written almost all my life. My writing has drawn, out of a reluctant soul, a measure of astonishment at the nature of life. And the more I wrote well, the better I felt I had to write.
In writing I had to say what had happened to me, yet present it as though it had been magically revealed. I began to write seriously when I had taught myself the discipline necessary to achieve what I wanted. When I touched that time, my words announced themselves to me. I have given my life to writing without regret, except when I consider what in my work I might have done better. I wanted my writing to be as good as it must be, and on the whole I think it is. I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times—once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.
Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing: “The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow’s meadow,” Henry Thoreau said.
I don’t regret the years I put into my work. Perhaps I regret the fact that I was not two men, one who could live a full life apart from writing; and one who lived in art, exploring all he had to experience and know how to make his work right; yet not regretting that he had put his life into the art of perfecting the work.
From Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work, ed. by Alan Cheuse and Nicholas Delbanco